A Nutcracker fantasy brought to life

By MADOLINE MARKHAM

Greystone Elementary fifth grader Carolena Miller rehearses for her role as Marie in The Alabama Ballet’s The Nutracker. Photo by Madoline Markham.

A place on a throne with a prince surrounded by sweets. A battle against giant mice and a mouse king. A ride on a sleigh in a land of sweets.  It’s the dream-come-true for the Marie in The Nutcracker.

For Carolena Miller, the story has the same effect.

“It feels almost real with all the props and scenery,” she said.

The Greystone Elementary fifth grader will play the role, known as Clara in other versions, in the George Balanchine ballet at Samford University’s Wright Center.

Carolena looks forward to practice every day: eight hours a week at rehearsal and countless more at home she dedicates in front of the DVD of the ballet she rented from the library. She has even taught herself other ballerinas’ roles in the play and goes through her moves in her head before bedtime each night.

Carolena first became entranced by the story of The Nutcracker when she  read the book at age three and saw the ballet at age four.

“I remember her sitting there during the ballet and how she loved it even at a young age,” her mother, Janet, said.

“I always wanted to be a party girl because I remember I really liked the costume, and I really like birthday parties,” Carolena said. And a party girl she became last year as one of around 80 community cast members from the Birmingham area in the annual production. It was her biggest dream come true until she found out she got the part of Marie this year.

“I was shocked,” Carolena said. “I couldn’t wait to go to practice.”

Last summer, the ballerina traveled to New York City with Dance South in Chelsea, where she has taken dance since age three.

“I still think being Marie is better than that,” she said.

Carolena takes tap and jazz classes, too, but the smile grows biggest on her face when she talks about ballet.

“I like the way it’s graceful and all the other types of dance build on it,” she said. “It’s just what I really love to do.”

Her mom dotes on not just her perfectionism as a dancer but also her conscientious dedication to getting straight A’s at school.

“She gets all her work done,” Miller said. “She will start on a project on the weekend that is due on Thursday.”

Carolena is also in the drama club at school, which will put on a production of Alice in Wonderland in the spring. Until then, she is learning to act as Marie.

She has to try not to smile in The Nutcracker’s battle scenes, but it’s different during party scenes when she is dancing in her prettiest costume.

“We have to act happy at the party, which isn’t hard because I’m on stage.”

Carolena’s cast group, one of two for the production, will perform at Samford’s Wright Center Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11 at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, $45 or $55. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit alabamaballet.org/nutcracker2011.shtml.

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